Public Policy Committee names priorities - Catholic Courier

Public Policy Committee names priorities

Access to mental health care, opposition to sex trafficking and adherence to the common good have been selected by the diocesan Public Policy Committee as its three priorities for 2011-12.

Mental illness is the Public Policy Committee’s advocacy issue and will involve a petition-signing campaign in diocesan parishes on Public Policy Weekend in February 2012. Brigit Hurley, subcommittee chair, said this issue is vital due to a profound lack of mental-health providers in New York state, particularly for young people. Hurley said she seeks to raise awareness on "how hard it is to get kids into psychiatric services" in many parts of this diocese, saying patients are subjected to lengthy waits between appointments and traveling extremely long distances for care. This drastically increases the possibility that they may go untreated. In fact, Hurley said 80 percent of children and adolescents in the United States with a psychiatric disorder do not receive treatment.

Thus, Public Policy Committee efforts will focus on imploring New York state legislators to create incentives that would swell the ranks of service providers, such as higher salaries and reimbursements as well as funding for graduate students to pursue careers related to mental illness. Hurley, who serves as parish social-ministry coordinator at Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, added that in advance of the petition-signing this coming winter, faith communities will be made aware of the pervasiveness of mental illness in society and the stigma attached to it.

Meanwhile, the Public Policy Committee has cited sex trafficking — crimes involving the use of humans for commercial sexual exploitation — as an educational priority for 2011-12. Jann Armantrout, diocesan life-issues coordinator, said an increasing demand for sexual entertainment, prostitution and pornography — particularly online — fuels the likelihood that women, men and children will become victims. She said this activity is taking place not only in major metropolitan areas but also smaller municipalities, which she acknowledged might come as a surprise to the many who think "this isn’t happening in Elmira and Rochester."

"Here in Rochester we have a sizable immigrant population, and they are the most at risk," she explained. "We really need to heighten our consciousness." She added that prostitution, though well-established in culture, is a form of sex trafficking "and the community needs to challenge those activities."

Armantrout also stressed that individuals must challenge the myth that strip dancers, porn stars and prostitutes enjoy what they do when in fact that may be homeless, drug addicted and/or coerced by others to perform sexual acts. She said that with greater insight, more people will likely refrain from accessing and thus supporting the sex industry.

The Public Policy Committee’s second educational priority calls us to take a hard look at the growing gap in this country between rich and poor, and how that disproportion affects our own motives as Catholics. The committee reported that the top 1 percent of the United States’ earners receive nearly 25 percent of the country’s income and control 40 percent of the wealth. Marvin Mich, director of social policy and research at Catholic Family Center, said that with such financial clout comes the power to influence political decisions — and chances are, lower and middle classes will get the short end of the stick.

"This is dangerous because it affects all of us. If this continues for 20 years, what’s our society going to look like?" Mich remarked.

He said the Public Policy Committee wants people to ponder, through prayer and discussion, the question, "What are our values as Christians and Catholics in light of that?" He said Catholics must not get caught up in this wave of materialism; instead of striving for fancy cars and oversized houses we must remain true to our duty of helping the less fortunate in this country and beyond.

"Individualism is good but if it’s excessive, it undercuts the common good and is just a race to the top, a survival of the fittest," he said.

Mich observed that becoming fully engaged in this and other diocesan public-policy issues can make a profound difference for the better. He cited last year’s Public Policy Committee advocacy issue, "Working Out of Poverty," noting that 8,273 signatures were collected from this diocese in asking state legislators to reconsider budget cuts for employment and training programs, child-care subsidies and transportation for low-income workers. In the end, significant money was restored — an example, in Mich’s opinion, of how Catholic public-policy advocates statewide "are the conscience of Albany, to a certain extent," even when legislators don’t always agree with the petitioners.

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